Toxic Canary

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The headline in the Forward, “Canary Mission Blacklist Is Secretly Bankrolled By Major Jewish Federation,” was misleading. But revelations last week about the opaque right-wing Canary Mission show what happens when support for Israel runs amok.

The Forward detailed how the San Francisco-based Diller Family Foundation, which is managed by the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation, provided a one-time $100,000 grant to Canary Mission, a secretive blacklist of purportedly anti-Israel students. The funds were sent via the Central Fund of Israel, an organization that funds right-wing pro-Israel initiatives.

Canary Mission says that it “documents individuals and organizations that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses.” Critics accuse it of seeking to intimidate pro-Palestinian college students and stifle their activism with the threat of a blacklist. Supporters argue that exposing Israel haters and BDS supporters is a worthwhile activity, and that those critical of Israel should be made to answer for their actions. Canary Mission does not reveal who funds it or manages its activity.

We are troubled by Canary Mission’s activities and intimidation tactics. Simply put, Jews should not be spying, and Jewish organizations should not be in the business of compiling enemy lists. While we don’t minimize the very real threat that Students for Justice in Palestine and other pro-Palestinian organizations targeted by Canary Mission pose to Israel and the Jewish community, we support taking them on directly, on college campuses and elsewhere, with better and more compelling emotion and arguments.

Now, in the name of fighting what Canary Mission has decided are Israel’s enemies, a respected Jewish family foundation and the Jewish federation that manages it have been tarnished by their association. That’s unfair and unfortunate.

But there are additional toxic consequences. According to the Forward, the Hillel director at the University of Michigan said that Canary Mission’s work has backfired, leading to “greater support for the targeted students and their beliefs, and had spread mistrust of pro-Israel students, who were suspected of spying for Canary Mission.”

To make things even more complicated, late last week, Haaretz reported that the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry had used information from the Canary Mission to bar at least one American student from studying at Hebrew University.

This revelation is more disturbing than the Diller donation, as it is alarming that Israeli officials are using this blacklist as a tool to promote their ban on BDS activists. Like the troubling enforcement of the travel ban itself, these activities risk damaging Israeli democracy and relations with the American Jewish community. And if Canary Mission is collecting data on American citizens for use by a foreign government, the group is probably required by law to register as a foreign agent.

In a letter last spring, 107 pro-Israel students at seven universities called Canary Mission “antithetical to our democratic and Jewish values” and “counterproductive to our efforts.” We agree.

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